It’s nice to have a trailer that’s inspired countless memes – mainly from its demented title character doll busting creepy dance moves. M3GAN is the first wide release of 2023 and it appears poised to start the year off on a profitable note. The sci-fi horror pic comes from director Gerard Johnstone with a screenplay by Malignant scribe Akela Cooper. Jason Blum and James Wan serve as producers as the Blumhouse label looks to have another buzzy hit. Allison Williams headlines the cast and she’s no stranger to moneymaking fright fests that open early in the calendar year (2017’s Get Out). The supporting players include Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng, and Brian Jordan Alvarez.
With a marketing campaign showcasing the alarming and humorous robotic pal, M3GAN may open on pace with other hit genre pics of recent times. I could see it debuting somewhere in between the $30 million from last January’s Scream reboot and the near $23 million that Smile took in during the fall. That’ll be enough to produce smiles and screams of joy for Universal.
Nikyatu Jusu’s directorial debut Nanny first drew viewers earlier this year at Sundance and will be screened in Toronto next week. Anna Diop stars as a Senegalese caretaker working for an affluent NYC family. Their arrangement appears, judging from the trailer, to morph into arthouse horror territory. Costars include Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, and Morgan Spector.
After its festival run, Nanny is slated for a limited November 23rd theatrical run before its streaming rollout on December 16th via Amazon Prime. Reviews are continuing to pop up as it plays other fests throughout the country and the Rotten Tomatoes score is 90%. It won the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. The last two winners of that award were the Best Picture nominated Minari in 2020 and last year’s CODA which, of course, took home the Academy’s biggest prize. I would also note that the five winners before that came nowhere near a BP nod.
Diop is receiving raves along with appreciation for Jusu’s original screenplay. Nanny would really need some high profile love from critics groups before I’d consider entering this into Academy chatter. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility, but I wouldn’t count on it. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
John Logan’s directorial debut They/Them tries to mix social commentary with the slasher genre. The result doesn’t feel sharp or incisive and it especially doesn’t provide many scares. Logan has written many a screenplay (from Gladiator to The Aviator to Skyfall) and it’s a little shocking how much of a misfire this blend ends up being.
A group of teens and young adults arrive at the Whistler Camp run by Owen (Kevin Bacon) and wife Cora (Carrie Preston). It’s billed as a conversion camp for the LGBTQ community though Owen insists the experience is all about finding your true self. Their educational methods are soon discovered to be on the bizarre and barbaric side with non-binary Jordan (Theo Germaine) as the most vocal critic. Another skeptic is Molly (Anna Chlumsky), a newly employed nurse at the facility. She’s the only member of the staff not drinking the Kool-Aid.
In addition to the horror of Owen’s work, there’s a potential Friday the 13th situation happening with a masked killer on the grounds. That part of the storyline is put on the back burner mostly until the third act and the eventual twists are pretty obvious.
For the majority of its length, They/Them struggles mightily with its tone. We have glimmers of camp (including a cringe worthy Pink singalong) and then a therapy session that goes for Get Out vibes and fails. Some of the performances are decent. A small subplot about deeply closeted high schooler (Anna Lore) and her budding romance with the more confident Veronica (Monique Kim) might have been interesting in a different movie.
Despite the clever title with a double meaning (they slash them), the picture itself never solves its own identity crisis. By doing so, it certainly does a disservice to the issues it tries to explore.
At first glance, even writing an Oscar predictions post for They/Them might seem a little silly. The slasher pic set at a conversion camp premieres on Peacock tomorrow and reunites Kevin Bacon with the bloody genre 42 years after Friday the 13th.
It doesn’t seem as silly considering it’s the directorial debut of John Logan. He also serves as sole writer for the project and he’s a three-time Academy nominee for his penned works: 2000’s Gladiator, 2004’s The Aviator, and 2011’s Hugo.
Yet despite his scripting a trio of Best Picture nominees, reviews for this Blumhouse produced offering are mixed at best. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is currently at 50%. That makes this equation simple as They/Them will nab as many Academy mentions as Friday the 13th. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
Blogger’s Note (06/30): On the eve of its premiere, upping my Minions estimate from $78.4M to $86.4M
Coming off a weekend where four pictures posted grosses north of $20 million (a first since 2018!), Minions: The Rise of Gru looks to set box office fireworks and rule the holiday weekend. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:
The five-year wait between entries for the Despicable Me/Minions franchise could limit its potential a bit. However, my projected four-day haul approaching $80 million will easily give it the gold.
As for holdovers, Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick should duke it out for second position. While the former edged Maverick for a #1 debut (more on that below), look for Tom Cruise and company to have a better hold and likely maintain runner-up status. It’s also important to remember that overall declines for most pics should be smaller than normal considering that July 4th falls on Monday.
Jurassic World: Dominion and The Black Phone should slide spots to 4th and 5th. There’s a slight chance Phone could experience a hefty slide (due to its being in the horror genre) and Lightyear stays fifth. However, given the Pixar pic’s underperformance and hefty sophomore dip, I don’t anticipate that being the case. Plus Phone nabbed a B+ Cinemascore grade which is just fine for that genre.
With that – let’s make it a top 6 forecast and remember these are projections for Friday to Monday given the Independence Day frame:
1. Minions: The Rise of Gru
Predicted Gross: $86.4 million
2. Top Gun: Maverick
Predicted Gross: $29.8 million
Predicted Gross: $23.2 million
4. Jurassic World: Dominion
Predicted Gross: $17.3 million
5. The Black Phone
Predicted Gross: $14.5 million
Predicted Gross: $10.2 million
Box Office Results (June 24-26)
In one of the closest finishes in recent box office times, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis was crowned king with $31.2 million. While not quite matching my $35.6 million prediction, it’s a solid number for an adult skewering musical biopic.
Top Gun: Maverick continued its epic run in second with $29.6 million. Like with Elvis, I was a little high at $34.8 million. In five weeks of release, the spectacularly performing sequel has amassed $520 million. That’s the third all-time #5 frame behind Avatar and Titanic.
Jurassic World: Dominion fell to third after two weeks on top with $26.7 million, just under my $28.3 million take. The dino saga stands at a sturdy $303 million.
Critically appreciated fright fest The Black Phone opened in fourth with $23.6 million – ringing up a more impressive number than my $18.6 million projection. Considering its budget is only a reported $18 million, this will be yet another profitable venture for Blumhouse.
Finally, Lightyear slid from second to fifth. Crashing harder than anticipated in its second orbit after an unimpressive start, the Pixar spinoff made $18.1 million (I said $23.2 million). The two-week tally is a muted $89 million after ten days. For comparison sake, I had it making $85 million in its first three days.
After helming critically appreciated genre titles The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister (as well as the first Doctor Strange), Scott Derrickson is back in the horror lane this weekend with The Black Phone. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, the supernatural tale began garnering solid buzz when it premiered at Fantastic Fest last fall. Ethan Hawke is the most recognizable name in a cast that includes Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.
Scary movies always face an uphill battle for awards attention. Despite its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, I don’t foresee Phone dialing up a Best Picture nod. On the other hand, particular acclaim has been afforded to its young costars Thames and McGraw. In order for them to grab any buzz in the supporting fields, the film’s box office reception would need to be fantastic. While I’ve got it performing well, I am not envisioning it reaching that kind of level. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
After ringing up lots of positive reception last fall at Fantastic Fest, the supernatural horror pic The Black Phone arrives in theaters June 24th. Based on a short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), Scott Derrickson directs. His biggest blockbuster is 2016’s Doctor Strange, but he’s a veteran of the genre including helming The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. His lead from the latter – Ethan Hawke – stars as a serial killer. Costars include Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.
In September 2021, Phone garnered serious buzz at the Austin fest. While some reviewers nitpicked pacing issues, the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100% with particular praise for its young performers Thames and McGraw. With a reported budget of under $20 million, this should be another profitable venture for Blumhouse. That production company is used to turning a tidy profit for many of their titles.
During the COVID era, frightening tales were generally immune from negative box office effects. I would look for Phone to earn its price tag back during the first weekend.
The Black Phone opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million
Blogger’s Update (05/12): Revising my prediction down to $6.5 million
Based on Stephen King’s 1980 novel and a reworking of the 1984 film adaptation starring a young Drew Barrymore, Firestarter hopes to heat up multiplexes on Friday the 13th. Ryan Kiera Armstrong fills Barrymore’s original role as a pyrokinetic kid with Zac Efron, Sydney Lemmon, Kurtwood Smith, and Gloria Reuben among the cast. Keith Thomas directs.
Coming from the Blumhouse label which has produced plenty of horror hits, this will be released simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock, which is still finding its way in the streaming universe. The first Firestarter 38 years ago was not a hot property at the box office as it grossed $17 million. It’s also fair to say that it isn’t considered a genre classic like other King penned cinematic properties.
Horror pics are dangerous to underestimate, but my hunch is that Firestarter may not reach $13 million. The worst case scenario could be a start in the high double digits, but I’ll say it gets a bit beyond that.
Firestarter opening weekend prediction: $6.5 million
For my Downton Abbey: A New Era prediction, click here:
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) spends the 12th Halloween experience laid up in a hospital bed after her near mortal injuries incurred from the 11th one. In that sense, Halloween Kills is quite similar to the first official sequel from 1981. The samesies comparisons don’t stop there as this is an inferior follow-up to what came before it. The difference is that the 1978 original was a slasher classic to which all followers have been judged. 2018’s Halloween was not and therefore the letdown isn’t as steep.
Kills takes place (like Halloween II) during the immediate events after its predecessor. Laurie, daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) had left Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) to burn at her tricked out house. Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be mission unaccomplished as the masked one escapes that space and leaves plenty of dead firefighters in his wake.
While Laurie is recovering from her own stabbing, Michael has his knives out for plenty of other townsfolk in Haddonfield. As you may recall, we are on our third iteration of the killer’s most famous prey reuniting with her predator. The 1981 sequel continued John Carpenter’s storyline and revealed that Laurie is Michael’s little sister. 1998’s Halloween: H20 set their sibling rivalry 20 years later.
By the time David Gordon Green and company came around and another two decades passed, 2018’s Halloween ignored all of that. The familial connection was slashed in favor of Laurie becoming a survivalist and waiting for escaped booby hatch patient Myers to find her. Kills allow for other figures in the ’78 pic to return – Tommy Doyle (who Laurie babysat) is now Anthony Michael Hall. Kyle Richards reprises her role as Lindsey, one of the other kids tormented that night. And we catch up with Sheriff Bracket (Charles Cyphers) and Nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens). We also spend some unnecessary time with flashbacks to 40 years before that don’t add much (though if you want CG Donald Pleasance, you’re in luck).
The phrase “Evil Dies Tonight” is repeated ad nauseam as the denizens of our Illinois murder spot (led by Tommy) seek to end Michael’s return engagement. Of course, we know that ain’t happening. Halloween Kills is the second of a trilogy that will end (?) with next year’s ambitiously titled Halloween Ends. This has the feel of stopgap viewing with no real payoffs and our star player relegated to the sideline. There are a few garish highlights. I was entertained by the couple Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald… not that one) who live in Michael’s childhood house of horrors and probably should’ve upped their homeowners insurance. A hospital set scene where the residents chase down another of the escaped mental patients is shot effectively.
Ultimately Halloween Kills, for most of its running time, feels painfully average. It’s more violent than part one… which was actually part II if you ignore that other part II. So I suppose this is part III when ignoring nine other movies. The gimmick of Laurie coming back (again) had its pleasures in 2018. Tommy and Lindsey coming back in the mix doesn’t really cut the mustard. Michael cuts the tracheas and tendons with dutiful impassioned restraint. It seldom rises above the mediocrity where most of this series has dwelled since part one (the real one).
The joy of witnessing Vince Vaughn in the body of an awkward teenage girl provides intermittent comedic thrills in Christopher Landon’s Freaky. It’s just too bad there aren’t more of them in the latest spotty but certainly watchable low-budget horror flick from the Blumhouse shop. If you have seen the director’s two Happy Death Day pictures, you won’t be surprised he’s behind the camera with this. The first Death reconfigured the Groundhog Day concept to the slasher genre while its sequel veered more toward a sci-fi Back to the Future vibe. Freaky‘s influence is simple and in the title without mentioning the word Friday.
Our body swap involves an urban legend but very real serial killer who goes by the Blissfield Butcher and is played by Vaughn. Millie (Kathryn Newton) is the high schooler mourning the loss of her father while her alcoholic mom coddles her. When the Butcher swipes a mysterious ancient dagger from his previous killing in an attempt to off Millie, it switches their forms. This is just in time for Friday the 13th and they have 24 hours to reverse the effect.
I’ll use this opportunity to praise title cards. I enjoyed how in the lead up to the big day, we see “WEDNESDAY THE 11TH” and “THURSDAY THE 12TH” in bloody scrawl font as if they’re meant to provide a jolt. When Millie does inhabit the Butcher’s 6’5″ frame and has a long pined for romantic moment with her crush, it provides the funniest scene of all (Vaughn’s humorous talents are on full display there).
Yet Freaky is also tonally challenged. Millie’s tragic family dynamics feel slightly forced. The backstory involving that mystical knife called La Dola might be something its makers hope to explain further in a sequel. I’ll credit the screenwriters for finding a couple of Friday the 13th style inventive ways to off lustful adolescents, but the film isn’t exactly scary.
This is more occasionally funny than truly freaky and it ends up being about as entertaining as both Happy Death Day experiences. It succeeds from time to time with its mashup of well known properties, but leaves a bit to be desired.